Raw Milk–Raw Nerves

March 28, 2015

 

 

  At the work session on Thursday March 9th 2015 the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry listened to their committee analyst regarding the two raw milk bills under consideration this session and then adjourned to party caucuses without any discussion of the bills.   They reconvened and, with the Republican half of the committee refusing to table the bill, voted them both out of committee “ought not to pass” on a straight party line vote with one Republican Senator absent.    Thus the vote was tied and the bills will move forward to a full legislative vote on a divided committee report.  What this means is that the Republicans successfully thwarted any effort to discuss this bill.   Civil discussion of our differences of opinion, a bedrock principle of any participatory form of government, denied.

Representative Saucier and Representative Chapman did attempt to start the discussion but they were mostly ignored and the votes were called.

At the public hearings the week before there was testimony presented on both sided of the issue.  Last year, the governor pledged support for a direct sales raw milk bill so long as farmers’ markets weren’t included.  The fact that the vote was straight party line, and that there was much arm twisting going on in the hallway by a former member of the committee, proves this is not the case.   This particular former committee member has stated publicly that it is his mission to block anything we try to do this year.   He has established himself as the Governor’s mouthpiece on these issues thus dashing any hope of there not being a veto if either bill gets through the legislature.

And so we move on to other more hopeful bills.   Including Representative Chapman’s bill LD 925 An Act To Promote Small Diversified Farms and Small Food Producers.  No public hearing has been scheduled for this bill  yet.   Stay tuned.


Rep. Hickman introduces bill establishing a right to food

March 17, 2015

For Immediate Release

March 16, 2015

 



Rep. Hickman introduces bill establishing a right to food

Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity

 

AUGUSTA – A bill to establish a constitutional amendment declaring that every individual has a natural and unalienable right to food will be heard before the Legislature in the coming weeks

 

Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, has introduced a resolution that would amend Maine’s Constitution to address the issues of food security and food self-sufficiency in Maine. 

 

Food is life,” said Hickman. “I believe that access to wholesome food is a right for every individual. When one in four children among us goes to bed hungry every night, we must dobetterWe cannot allow a single one of us to go hungry for a single dayMaine has all the natural resources and the hard-working, independent-spirited people to grow, catch, forage, process, prepare and distribute enough food to feed ourselves and strengthen our local economies. Let us stop importing more food per capita than any other state on the continent.”

 

Because the bill proposes to amend the Constitution, two thirds of the Legislature will need to approve the resolution and send it to the people for a vote in the next statewide election.

 

With more than 84,000 hungry children, Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity, according to the USDA

 

There is nothing more intimate than eating,” Hickman said. “People are demanding access to the kinds of food that they determine are best for their own health and the health of their familiesFood is lifeThis resolution declares that all individuals have a right to the food of their own choosing and that they be personally responsible for the exercise of this right. I believe that the good people of Maine, if given a chance at the ballot box, will resoundingly agree.”

 

The bill was referred to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, where it will receive a public hearing in the coming weeks. 

 

Hickman is an organic farmer and House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.  He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Readfield, Winthrop and part of Monmouth.


Testifying Before a Joint Committee

March 6, 2015



Testifying before a committee in Augusta.

When a piece of legislation comes up before the legislature it is first afforded a public hearing in front of the appropriate joint standing committee.   These committees have co-chairs, one from the house and one from the senate, and a representative sampling of both Representatives and Senators of both (and sometimes all three) parties.   If you are interested in seeing a bill pass or alternatively get defeated one of the first places you would want to make your voice heard is at these public hearings.  Here is a brief synopsis of how you go about doing that.

*Write out your testimony.   Unless you are an awfully good public speaker and know your subject extremely well it is best to have written testimony.   For many reasons.   One of which is that you want to provide (in fact it is semi-required) 20 copies of your written testimony so that there are copies for each of the members of the committee plus some extras for interested parties.  It is nice to begin your testimony by addressing the chairs of the committee by name and to end by thanking the committee for its time.

*Keep it to one page.   I once heard a wise old legislator say “If you can’t convince me in three minutes, you can’t convince me.”  Three minutes is about 600 words.   Make your point.   Keep it succinct.   They will hold you to the three minute time limit especially if there are lots of folks wanting to address this particular bill.

*Tell a story.   If you have ever listened to the State of the Union address you know it is often a series of stories.  The President tells stories about real people, using them to make a personal point about each issue he wants to address.  Your stories should be true and about you or someone you know well.   Make sure the committee knows this is personal to you.   These representatives care about the people they serve and want to hear our voices.  Why else would they volunteer to sit through these, often mind-numbing, meetings?

*If you cite sources such as research articles or government statistics provide copies of those sources as well.   Show that you are not just spouting off the top of your head but that the sources you reference actually do exist.  

*When you testify you will be asked to sign in as either “for”, “against”, or “neither for nor against.”   The testimony will be heard in that order with the primary sponsor of the bill (a Senator or Representative) speaking first and then any other legislator offered time to speak and then the general public.   Sometimes a state employee of the particular department affected will be asked to speak.  Lobbyists included.

*Be prepared, as best you can, for questions.  Often there are none but occasionally one of the members of the committee will want to probe further into the facts of your statement.   They are usually fairly nice about it but try not to be caught off guard by whatever they may ask. That can be very embarrassing.

*If you cannot be there to testify in person you can do one of two things: 1) someone else can take your written testimony to the hearing for you and present it or 2) you can send in your written testimony.   If you do the later it is advisable to send a copy to each member of the committee individually to be sure they see it.

*And lastly don’t forget work sessions.   If you are really interested in a particular bill, and especially if you are really knowledgeable about its subject matter, plan on attending the work session concerning the bill. It is usually scheduled on a separate day.   It is in the work session that these bills are hashed over (and sometimes made into hash) and public attendance at those sessions can occasionally have an impact.  And if the committee knows you have expertise and you are sitting there they may ask you to chime in with your knowledge.

The joint standing committee for Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry chairs are Senator Peter Edgecomb and Representative Craig Hickman.   The clerk of the committee is Cassie Nixon her email address is Cassie.Nixon at legislature.maine.gov  


Bills To Watch

March 4, 2015



The work of the 127th Legislature is underway.  There are more bill proposals in the works than ever before that, in one way or another, seek to promote, protect or grow small-scale diversified farming in Maine.  As you may know, the good intent of legislators can get very altered as the bill goes through the process of becoming a law.   We will keep you up to date as all proceeds this legislative session.  

 

The first two bills that are ready for a public hearing are about raw milk.   

 

PUBLIC HEARING ON BOTH BILLS IS THURSDAY, MARCH 12

1 PM, CROSS BUILDING, ROOM 214.

 

Background:  It is legal to sell raw milk at farmers’ markets and retail outlets under state licensing and inspection.  Before 2009, it was also legal to sell raw milk directly from a farm with no licensing or inspection so long as the farm didn’t advertise.  This policy changed in 2009 when Dairy Inspection Services moved from the Animal Health Division of the Department. Of Agriculture to the Quality Assurance and Regulation division.  The policy change happened within the agency and did not undergo a process of legislative oversight or public input.  In every legislative session since then, there have been bills proposed to correct this and restore legitimacy in state law to on-farm sales of raw milk and/or milk products.

 

 

LD 229: An Act to Exempt Small Raw Milk Producers from Licensing Requirements.  Rep. Jefferey Hanley, Pittston

 

This bill exempts the sale of raw milk and raw milk products from licensing so long as 20 gallons or less are sold or processed into dairy products daily.  Milk must be sold directly to consumer at the farm, farm stand or at a farmers’ market.   Milk and milk products must be clearly labeled with the name, address and phone number of the farm, the name of the product and the following statement: “This product is made with raw milk and is exempt from State of Maine licensing.   There must be a sign where the milk is sold that has the name, address, and phone number of the farm as well as the statement that “Products from this farm made from raw milk are exempt from State of Maine licensing.”

 

 

LD 312: An Act To Allow the Sale of Unregulated Farm-produced Dairy Products at the Site of Production, Rep. Bill Noon, Sanford

 

This bill facilitates direct sales of dairy products sold on farm ]by exempting those sales from state licensing and inspection requirements if the sales are made directly to an “end-consumer” on the farm only, and the farm customer is allowed to visually inspect the farm; the farm doesn’t advertise in any way; the farmer completes a course in dairy sanitation every 3 years and displays certificate at the point of sale, and the farmer must post a water test result at the point of sale.  

 

 

Your voice matters!  Share your story, tell why it is important to you to protect access to food raised in your community, let your representative and senator hear from you.  Come to Augusta on March 12th and share your testimony with the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.


On The Hill

February 11, 2015

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Some of the folks from Mississippi Association of Cooperatives swapping seeds from up north.

Betsy Garrold, President of the Board, is still in Washington DC after three days of very successful meeting, sharing, goal setting and action planning at the National Family Farm Coalition meeting. Today they storm the hill.

Maggie and Dena from Northern Plains Resource Council will be meeting with folks from the USDA and Congress-people from Montana.

Jim from Family Farm Defenders and Betsy from our own FMF will be meeting with staff from Susan Collins’ office, staff from Tammy Baldwin’s office (Jim is from Wisconsin) and, later in the afternoon, Chellie Pingree. The focus of these meetings will be educating these folks about the impact the TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade deal will have on small farms in this country. All of this in a effort to get them to vote against Fast Track.

Other Coalition members will be meeting with their respective Congress-persons.

One of the speakers we heard, over our three days of meetings, was Mike Dolan from the Teamsters. A dynamic speaker, Mike lead us through strategies that could work to stop this latest egregious trade deal. Monkey-wrenching (or as his European colleagues mis-heard it monkey ranching) is his favorite tactic. Once again seeing the sausage made is not always pretty but if it gets the job done than it’s all good. For more information on strategy email FMF at hgarrold@yahoo.com.

Fast Track authority is probably going to be voted on within the month. Congress is hot to get this done before the 2016 presidential sweepstakes begin, so watch for action alerts from your favorite progressive organizations and please sign on. Remember that next week all of Congress is going to be back home in their districts for President’s Day recess so if there are town-hall meetings planned please attend them and speak up against the selling, yet again, of the small farmers and other workers down the proverbial river that this bad, bad trade deal embodies.

And chin up spring is coming, as we proved at the NFFC meeting by swapping seeds. Dan and Charles from Mississippi told me they are going home to plant the bean seeds they took this very week. So it is warm somewhere and soon will be again in Maine.


Upcoming Events

February 5, 2015

On Sunday February 8th, 2015 Betsy Garrold (board President) will travel to Washington DC to attend the annual meeting of the National Family Farm Coalition of which Food for Maine’s Future is a member. Here is a snapshot about the organization from their website:

“We stand for a FAMILY FARMER POLICY AGENDA.

U.S. farm and food policy must change in order to reverse the economic devastation currently faced by our nation’s family farmers and rural communities. In addition, our international trade policy must recognize each nation’s right and responsibility to make their own decisions about how to develop and protect the capacity to grow food, sustain the livelihood of food producers, and feed the people in its own borders.

We envision empowered communities everywhere working together democratically to advance a food and agriculture system that ensures health, justice, and dignity for all. Future generations will thrive when the family farm is an economically viable livelihood supported by environmentally sustainable and socially diverse vibrant rural communities.”

This meeting is a chance for FMF to be present on the national stage in solidarity with many great grassroots organizations across the country. Standing shoulder to shoulder to protect the small farmers and their workers against the total take over of our food system by the oligarchs.

The other great news this month is that the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund will be funding a part-time paid lobbyist in Augusta this session. This will help immensely with the ongoing work of getting the law to follow the practice when it comes to face to face food sales in the state.

So next week in Augusta this is want the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) will be holding public hears about:

February 10th at 1:00 pm in Room 214 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta:
LD 4 and LD 119 both bills dealing with the growing of industrial hemp here in Maine.

February 12th (same time same place) they will be hearing testimony regarding a resolution to review the merger that created the DACF.

Anyone interested in attending these hearings and wanting more information can contact Betsy at hgarrold@yahoo.com or leave a message on our Facebook page.

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In Defense of Small Dairies (and other small farms)

January 24, 2015

Here is a review of Bruce Scholten’s new book – U.S Organic Dairy Politics: Animals, Pasture, People and Agribusiness.
January 13th, 2015

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan – a division of St. Martin’s Press (in the US)

A review by Jim Goodman

Bruce Scholten’s in-depth and thoughtful analysis of U.S. organic dairy politics begins with his own memories of growing up on a Washington State dairy farm. From what was common in his childhood, small dairy farms operated by multi-generational family labor, pasturing their cattle, building the soil and supporting local communities, Scholten shows the reader how things have changed over the past five decades.

Scholten exposes the system that has come to control and victimize the farmer (both conventional and organic), the animals, the environment and the consumer. Noting that “Get big or get out” — the exhortation of Earl Butz — set the stage for the shift of agriculture from small family dairy farms to “mega-dairies,” Scholten clearly explains how this shift was made using government policy, driven by corporations that have taken control of markets, of seeds and even of the simple ethical principles that had been a safeguard for the environment and the animals with whom we are so interdependent.

While many farmers saw organic farming as a way to get out of the increasingly industrialized and globalized food system, Scholten shows how current policy in Washington is allowing, if not encouraging, the “industrialization” of organic agriculture. A parallel system to conventional agriculture, with intentionally weak organic standards and lax government regulation, is the situation we as organic farmers and consumers face. But there is resistance and hope, as Scholten notes; there are individuals and populist advocacy groups fighting to maintain the integrity of organic while ensuring farmers a fair price and consumers an honest product. Perhaps most of all, there are still farm families who “call their animals by name and manage their farms like living organisms in rural communities.”

You may link to the blog here: http://nffc.net/index.php/u-s-organic-dairy-politics-by-bruce-scholten/.

Thanks, Jim!


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